Why I'm marching: Parkland shooting survivors reflect in their own words ahead of March for Our Lives

Three high school sophomores on how their lives have changed since the shooting.

Thousands of students from around the country are descending upon Washington, D.C., and organizing in their local communities, to take part in the "March for Our Lives" rally to call for gun reform and school safety measures.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students lost their lives on Feb. 14, are leading the charge, organizing together and demanding that their voices be heard and that their safety be a priority.

Three students on the student newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who are marching in Washington, D.C., together, reflect on how their lives have changed since the deadly school shooting five weeks ago, why they are marching and what their message is for lawmakers and the world.

Read on for their reflections in their own words.

Leni Steinhardt, 15

Sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

My name is Leni Steinhardt, and I am currently a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Feb. 14, I ran for my life in fear that I would lose it. I called my parents one last time to tell them I loved them, just in case I never got to again. I heard gunshots go off and chaos around me.

Why does this sound like a war zone? This is a school that I am talking about. More importantly, my school that I am talking about.

Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is Leni Steinhardt and I am a survivor of a school shooting. That should never be a sentence any 16-year-old should have to write.

My innocence was stripped away from me as I lost my fellow classmates and faculty to gun violence.

I can still see the chaos in the hallways when I close my eyes. I am traumatized.

On Feb. 14, I was in chemistry class sitting at my desk taking notes. Ten minutes before the bell would have rung, I heard the first gunshot go off. I looked up from my notes and looked around my classroom. No one knew what the sound was and neither did my teacher.

She walked to the door and glared out the window to see if anything had happened, but she didn't see anything. She told us to continue back to our notes. Since it was Valentine’s Day, my whole class had just assumed that a Valentine's Day balloon had popped or someone had dropped a textbook in the hallway, which happens more than you would think.

Not even ten seconds later, the fire alarm went off, which was weird because we just had a drill during second-period. At the time, I was unaware of just how different my life would be the second I walked out that door. I headed out of the classroom and paused at the sound of screaming.

I looked towards the freshman building where I saw students, teachers, and other faculty screaming and running. Then all of a sudden, I heard several gunshots go off. My teacher, who had not yet left the classroom, ran out and told me and my classmate that they announced on the intercom to evacuate. I ran towards the closest stairwell which led to the teachers’ parking lot. Mid-way down the stairwell, a teacher screamed that it was a code red and that someone with a gun on-campus was shooting.

I ran back up the stairs and down the same hallway. Two librarians, who were holding their door open pulled me and a couple other students into the teachers’ lounge in the back of the library. They locked the doors behind us and rushed us into a large closet towards the back of the room.

I hid underneath a computer cart squished up against many other students. For two hours I hid in fear that I would die until a SWAT team rescued me.

For two hours, a high schooler should be playing video games, doing homework, or learning a math lesson.

For two hours, a student should not be cramped up in the corner of a dark classroom while their fellow classmates are dying.

Since that day, any loud noise is a trigger. I jump anytime I hear someone scream and flinch every single time someone knocks on the door. I can't help myself from imagining the worst.

I can no longer walk down the same path I did when I heard the first few gunshots. A safety blanket I was once hiding under is no longer there. I will never be the same. I look around at my amazing community coming together at a time like this, asking the government to evoke policy and change.

On March 24, I will be marching in honor of the 17 angels who no longer have their own voice in the world. I will be marching so no student has to ever call their parents and tell them that they love them one last time. I am marching to show that my generation will make the changes that prior generations couldn't.

Zoe Gordon, 15

On Feb. 14, I walked out of my classroom when I heard the second fire alarm of the day, never knowing that my life would soon flash before my eyes a minute later.

I got just a few feet outside of my classroom that was overlooking the freshmen building when I heard gunshot after gunshot, people screaming, and teachers yelling.

I saw our school's security guard running up the staircase of my building with his gun out. I thought it would be a good idea to run back to my classroom and urged my class to go inside and hide in the corner.

I never imagined the worst was unfolding until my dad texted me what was happening -- all just 20 feet away from my classroom. I stayed shaking in my cold, but safe classroom for two and a half hours while my favorite building was being shot up and while my classmates and friends were being killed.

Now, I always expect the worst. Ever since Feb. 14, my world has changed.

My body jumps when I hear the slightest sound, and on particular days when I feel happy, I also feel guilty.

My safety blanket is forever ripped off and my eyes are wide open to danger. Though it's been over a month, I cannot grasp that day and I do not know if I will be ever able to grasp it.

I lost 17 people that day. Teachers, friends, hallway acquaintances, pencil picker-uppers, and more. The media does not know how much these people meant to us. All of them were so much more than just a picture plastered across news coverage. They had dreams and aspirations like every other teenager has. It could have easily been any student that goes to our school.

I am so lucky, but again I feel guilty for that. I feel guilty for every opportunity I get out of this tragedy. Why am I being rewarded for having friends shot by bullets? It is hard to feel happy and if I do feel happy, I wish to be sad. I wonder if I will ever feel like a normal teenage girl again. A girl whose biggest stresses were having two tests the same day and wondering if her crush would like her newest Instagram photo.

Now I have to worry about bringing a clear backpack to school for the rest of my high school years.

Now I have to do a full 360-degree turn with my head when I hear a book drop.

Now I have to worry about telling people which high school I went to when I go off to college.

But then again, these stresses are so minimal compared to the beautiful people we lost that day due to gun violence.

This event is not about me, it's about the 17 lives that don't ever get the chance to voice their opinions on this issue.

I want to be their voice, their megaphone, for the change that we so desperately need in this world. I'm marching for them in Washington, D.C., on the 24th. I'm marching because I'm alive and I have two feet. I’m marching for the safety of the millions of students in America. I'm marching so that kids do not have to be fearful to learn. I'm marching so that we do not have to prepare to text our loved ones that we love them one last time. I'm marching so that students do not have to stay huddled for two and a half hours in the corner of their classroom. I’m marching for the people who say kids will never make changes. I'm marching to prove that guns kill people.

I'm sick of hearing of mass shooting after mass shooting, and nothing changing afterward. How are we supposed to not have more mass shootings when no progress is made? How many more lives will it finally take for laws to be enacted? Why aren’t our legislators listening to our cries? Why are they only paying attention to their next NRA donation? If the answer to fixing these problems seems so obvious, then why are our representatives making it so complicated? Our government is failing us kids, so we will prove to them that we are the ones that will make a change in this world.

Brianna Fisher, 15

On Feb. 14 at 2:20 p.m. I was in my AP World History class when the fire alarm was sounded. My class is on the second floor facing the highway in the back of the school. My class did not hear the initial gunshots because we were in the farthest possible classroom from the freshman, or 1200, building. We all thought it was a drill or that a fire had started in the culinary room.

After winter break, all of the teachers told us what to do in the event of an active shooter and that a drill would take place soon afterwards, so my mind first went there. Over the intercom, the assistant principal came on and told everyone to “evacuate immediately.”

Still thinking it was a drill, my class slowly made our way to the fields behind our class because we had just finished presenting a project and everyone was still taking off their props.

We walked through a break in the fence, along the canal and towards the middle school that is located next door. We then heard "gunshots" while we were walking, but I didn’t associate the sound with being gunshots because we couldn’t see what was happening. I called my mom and she told me to keep walking. She had heard of rumors of a shooter on campus but didn’t want to scare me. She told me not to stop and to not let go of my best friend's hand.

"Stay together," she kept on repeating.

Now, sensing urgency, we started to run with the rest of the students that were evacuating. At one point, our path between the lake and the fence was so narrow, people could only pass on it in single file while trying not to slip into the lake. We could hear and see the cop cars rushing down the highway, blasting sirens. Fire trucks and ambulances also made way. There were also so many regular cars that had stopped to see what was going on. My mom stayed with me on the phone and met us at the Walmart next to the middle school. She was able to take us home before anything happened to us.

I didn’t know fully what had happened until I was in her car. I was in disbelief that an event so severe and horrific was happening to my town and was affecting the people I love. It also petrified me that I evacuated at the same time and same place as the shooter. I did not know who he was, he could have been walking right next to me or in close proximity.

Even though this happened five weeks ago, I still jump every time I hear a siren or a police car or even hear a loud noise. Triggers like these will forever be engraved in my mind. Something as simple as a car driving over a pothole and causing it to shake makes me jump.

Fire alarms, especially, scare me because I now associate them with a shooter. When I hear a fire alarm I should not have to decide whether to stay in the building and burn or go outside and be subjected to be the target of an active shooter.

I still can’t fathom that something this devastating could actually happen to our school and our home. School is one of my favorite places and then to experience something like this while at school just seems surreal. I would never in a million years wish this fear and pain on anyone else. I want to work hard so that it never does.

It's truly amazing to see how my community is coming together to fight back and stand up for gun control to ensure that people feel safe, regardless of where they are.

On March 24, I am marching in Washington, D.C., for Jaime Guttenberg. Jaime was my friend from dance who lost her life to this senseless act of gun violence.

I am marching to piece back together my broken community, to make sure that my voice is heard and to represent those who no longer have a voice.

I am marching so that we can create a sense of safety and security for people all over the nation.

To legislatures, we will not stop after the march. Our fight for the cause will continue until nobody has to go to school fearing whether or not they will make it home for dinner. I may just be a sophomore and student at a Parkland school, but I demand change and will not allow this to define me or my town.

These essays have been edited for clarity.